Since the very beginning of my tenure in my current position, I have encountered a number of obstacles. Some were daunting (like getting a new roof on one of my buildings — only took about 4 years) and some were simple (need a color printer? Buy a color printer!). Each obstacle presented a dynamic opportunity for me to show the boss that I was a problem solver, and that I knew how to do my job. That’s a good thing. It’s always good to face a tough issue and work it out, accomplish the goal.
But some things seem to get stuck, and, no matter what you do, you can’t fix them. I’ll give you a concrete example. Several years ago, our program was put on a list — on the Internet — by a particular company that sold these lists to people who were seeking funding for their startup companies.
WOW! Talk about becoming rapidly popular. When you’re supposedly giving out money, EVERYONE wants to talk to you! You’re the person of the hour/day/year. You have money to give. You’ll reply with cash to anyone who emails and asks. YAY!
Who were these people, and why were they emailing me to ask for money? I received email after email requesting money. When I was able to determine why these people thought I had money to give, I reached out to the offending company and asked it to remove our company. It didn’t.
I wanted the emails to stop, so I sent email after email to the company that placed us on that list. I made several phone calls, only to get someone who said, “Well, that’s not my job” or “Gee, I’m not sure how to remove anyone from the list.” I pleaded, begged, and, eventually, threatened, but nothing worked.
So how do you deal with a problem you cannot fix?
In this instance, I had to adjust my habits. I had to scan my email regularly and dump the offending email into the junk mail folder. It’s what had to be done, considering that no one — no marketing person, no salesperson, no management individual — would ever help me by removing my listing from their site.
Damn them! I mean, seriously, who purposely misleads people like that? Who refuses to listen to reason and ignores the cries of the pitiful consumer who carries the burden? But the company refused. No company representative would speak with me or correct a bad — to me, intolerable — situation. In fact, I never got a straight answer. Never got a candid assessment or even a forthright, “No, we won’t fix it.” The company had a culture of avoidance.
So how do you get things done with folks like this? How do you make company leaders realize their error, admit they were wrong, and take corrective action? Well, the answer is, “Good luck, my friend, good luck.” They refuse to respond to emails, answer the phone, and/or admit they listed you improperly. In fact, they don’t give you a way to file complaints or requests. So, where to go from here? Well, I’ll tell you where — and how.
For over three years, I’ve taken the time to write back to folks who write to ask me for money. I’ve told them several things:
- #1. Why are you randomly writing to people looking for funding? That doesn’t work, and it makes you look desperate.
- #2. It’s stupid to send blind emails to a list of contacts you don’t know is screened and up-to-date. THIS one has some incorrect listings. I’ve spoken to other individuals/groups who are NOT funders but who have ended up on the list.
- #3. Where did you get this list? Was it free or did you pay for it? If it cost you something, are you AWARE the information on the list is incorrect and not useful, perhaps just wrong rather than simply out of date?
- #4. What success have you had in asking ABSOLUTE STRANGERS FOR MONEY?? How does that work? Is it a good strategy for you? Have you received a lot of responses/investments?
Those four points are what not to do.
What should you do?
I’ve worked with tens of thousands of companies during the past 30+ years. I’ve made sure those companies knew some basic concepts of running a business — how to write business plans, how to set up a corporation, how to ask for help and get help, how to set up funding rounds and pursue potential investors and how to manage people.
(Managing people is the big one. I’ve written some posts on this, but more are forthcoming. Trust me. Dealing with people is 90 percent or more of your success. From your own coworkers to potential investors to customers, it’s all PEOPLE-oriented).
There’s more, of course, to forming and operating a startup company. I’m not trying to trivialize or simplify entrepreneurship. But the point I’m making today is this: to grow, get ahead, and advance your efforts, YOU NEED CORRECT INFORMATION.
It is possible to get bad advice. (I’m sure many of you have experienced this.) It’s also possible to get incorrect information. (This rings a bell: “I saw it on the Internet, so it must be true!”) And in my experience, the worst possible thing to get wrong — whether from bad advice or incorrect information — involves financial information.
You only have so much time (as I mentioned in another blog). And when you’re an entrepreneur, you seem to have almost NO time. You have to do everything. Often the founder is responsible for finding, hiring, and tracking employees, not to mention finding, acquiring, and tracking money (and 100+ other tasks).
Show me the money
I’ve talked to many “wanna-be entrepreneurs” over the last 30+ years, and quite a few of them have been surprised when I immediately bring up finances. Why? Because I believe in cutting to chase, and I readily admit that, without money, nothing happens. It’s nearly impossible to found, build and advance a business concept without finances. Money makes it all work.
Whether the money comes from the 3 F’s (family, friends, and fools) or from a bank (consider SBA financing) or from other sources (royalties, business plan/pitch contests, product sales, consulting, your own savings/assets, etc.), you need cash/credit to grow your company. You will definitely need to put some time and effort into building and delivering an effective pitch (again, I’ve blogged about it). You’ll have to write it (get some good advice, please), refine it, practice it and, yep, practice it some more.
But, in the end, you’ll have to find investors who will sit through it and perhaps invest. That is where you depend on getting the correct information on who might invest, who knows them, and who can (and will) make an introduction to them.
In addition (short side note here), you need to get the best possible mentor advice. I’ve heard a lot lately about “Mentor Whiplash.” (Chenoa Farnsworth of Blue Startups wrote a great article about that.) Mentor whiplash is defined as getting “too many conflicting opinions from too many different mentors.”
You need to find a mentor or advisor who is the right fit for you. Or ask someone experienced, such as your local/regional business incubator professional, for guidance. Ask around, find out who understands your business/market, and have your team (if you have one) sit in on the mentorship sessions. Proof-test your mentor’s advice before fully applying it to your business model. Get advice from a pitch expert. Run the advice by several people to see if it flys before jumping into a new direction. (End of side note).
Back to me and my flooded inbox
So, again, to all of you (nearly 70) who have sent me “blind emails/pitches/follow-ups” over the past year to get me and my organization to invest in your company, I wanted you to know without a doubt that WE’RE NOT INVESTORS. We don’t have a fund. We don’t make investments.
We’re a business incubator (full-service coworking, acceleration, business incubation, specialty space for biotech, bioscience, manufacturing, and IT). We are dedicated to growing and assisting startups. In fact, our motto is “we build, grow and support the spirit of entrepreneurship.”
So, if you want to look us up as a business incubator, go for it! You’ll find a correct listing for us in several places. You won’t be wasting time if you look for that. In the future, be careful of buying any list or subscribing to any software unless you’re SURE the listings are correct will benefit you and your company. Heck, it might even save you time — IF you get the correct information.
I wish all of you out there with databases, apps, websites, and search engines all the best, but I wish you’d validate the information and listings you have. Saving people time — and getting them to learn to trust you and your product — will go a long way toward your success.
Until then, I’m writing you off. Sorry!
Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on April 13, 2021.